In Louisiana, legislature considers changes to protect doctors accused of misconduct

Around the country, concerns are being raised about the need to protect patients from the bad behavior of doctors. But in a move that bucks that trend, Louisiana lawmakers are considering changes that would protect doctors facing allegations of misconduct.

Proposed bills in Louisiana would create new protections for doctors accused of wrongdoing and facing action by the state’s licensing board, according to The Advocate.

A bill called the Physician’s Bill of Rights passed the state’s Senate on a unanimous vote and would require the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to change the way that it investigates complaints against physicians, the newspaper said. The bill would eliminate the ability of the board to use confidential sources and give doctors more rights throughout the investigation process.

Another bill introduced in the House is also advancing and would give doctors more “due process” when put under investigation by the board, according to The Advocate.

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Critics say the legislation would make patients more vulnerable, and not all doctors agree with the proposed changes. While the Louisiana State Medical Society supports the Bill of Rights, two doctors from Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a national consumer advocacy organization, sent a letter to state legislators telling them that excluding confidential sources from investigations would endanger the public.

"Many individuals who are in a position to witness physician misconduct are afraid to use their names when reporting serious concerns about physicians. This is particularly true when physician impairment, incompetence or unprofessional conduct is witnessed by a spouse, family member, colleague, nurse or employee of the physician,” wrote Michael Carome, M.D., and Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.

Proponents, however, point to the number of doctors who have committed suicide after or during investigations by the Medical Examining Board, the newspaper reported. Proponents say there are cases where doctors have been vindictively targeted with anonymous complaints and seen their careers destroyed.

Louisiana is unique in its move to give physicians more protections. The Federation of State Medical Boards told the newspaper it is not aware of any similar legislation being introduced or passed in any other state.

The trend has been in the opposition direction: protecting patients.

Just last week, Olympic gymnasts who hope to protect others from the kind of abuse they suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar spoke in support of legislation in California that would require doctors to inform patients if they are on probation for wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct.

While the Nassar case put physician misconduct in the national spotlight, an investigation by the Associated Press found the medical world is often more forgiving of allegations of sexual misconduct compared to situations in which Hollywood elite, journalists and politicians have resigned or been forced out.

When medical boards discipline doctors, the punishment is often a short suspension paired with mandatory therapy that treats sexually abusive behavior as a symptom of an illness or addiction, according to the AP investigation published this week.